Pain leads to suffering. Opioid misuse leads to suffering. We strive to avoid both for our patients. On the one hand, treating pain is one of the most important things we do in emergency medicine to help our patients and we need to be aggressive in getting our patients' pain under control in a timely, effective, sustained and safe fashion. This was the emphasis 10-20 years ago after studies showed that we were poor at managing pain and our patients were suffering. On the other hand, opioid dependence, addiction, abuse and misuse are an enormous public health issue. Opioid misuse in Emergency Medicine has become a major problem in North America over the past 10 years at least partly as a reaction to the years that we were being told that we were failing at pain management. As Dr. Reuben Strayer said in his SMACC talk on the topic: “Opioid misuse explodes in our face on nearly every shift, splattering the entire department with pain and suffering, and addiction and malingering and cursing and threats and hospital security, and miosis and apnea and naloxone and cardiac arrest.” So how do we strike a balance between managing [...]
Opiate misuse is everywhere. Approximately 15-20% of ED patients in the US are prescribed outpatient opiates upon discharge. In Ontario, about 10 people die accidentally from prescription opiates every week. Between 1990 and 2010, drug overdose deaths in the US increased by almost four fold, eclipsing the rate of death from motor vehicle collisions in 2009. This was driven by deaths related to prescription opiates, which now kill more people than heroin and cocaine combined. Opiates are the most prescribed class of medication in the US. In 2010, one out of every eight deaths among persons aged 25 to 34 years was opiate-related. Four out of 5 new heroin users report that their initial drug was a prescription opiate. In Ontario, three times the people died from opiate overdose than from HIV in 2011. Yet, we are expected to treat pain aggressively in the ED. Dr. Reuben Strayer, the brains behind the fantastic blog EM Updates tells his Best Case Ever, in which he realizes the importance of physician compassion in approaching the challenging drug seekers and malingerers that we manage in the ED on a regular basis. This Best Case Ever is in anticipation of an upcoming main episode in which Dr. Strayer and toxicologist Dr. David Juurlink discuss how to strike a balance between managing pain effectively and providing the seed for perpetuating a drug addiction or feeding a pre-existing drug addiction, and how we best take care of our patients who we suspect might have a drug misuse problem.